Whales: Largest Mammal on Earth

The Southern Right Whale has two blow holes, producing a v-shaped cloud of water vapor when it blows out.

“Thar she blows, me mateys!” That’s the call that went up when a whaler spied a Southern Right Whale spouting water from its blowhole. It’s fun to say. Watch this video and give it a try!


But that’s where the fun ends, because the rest of the story is about how the whalers killed these magnificent mammals of the ocean. The whales were given their name because they were found in the southern hemisphere. They were considered the right whale because they swam slowly making them easy to harpoon; they floated when they were killed; and their body had a lot of oil, blubber, and bone that could be sold for lots of money.

A Southern Right Whale is a baleen whale, so it has baleen to filter fish from the water. It has no teeth.

Fortunately, most countries of the world today have outlawed whaling. People now flock to areas just to catch a glimpse of these incredible giants. They pay money to go out on whale watching boats for a trip of a lifetime. I’m so lucky to be living in an area where they come close to shore this time of year to calve (give birth). I’ve seen many whales right from my living room window!  I usually see a spout from its blowhole first, or a flash of black on the blue ocean.Then I grab my binoculars (always kept close by), for a really close-up view.

From the restaurant we watched whales swim by.

A few days ago, my husband and I drove along the coast to the lovely little town of Hermanus. While there, we discovered a fantastic restaurant right on the shore and saw six whales swim by while we were eating our lunch! It was a magical spot.

Check out this video of a mother and baby swimming side by side. The calf (baby whale) is swimming on its back. Can you see its white tummy? The cow (female whale) is swimming next to it, making sure no harm comes to it.


Head and tail of a Southern Right Whale. Notice the callosities (hardened bits of skin) on its head.

It’s exciting to catch a glimpse of the back of a whale, or see it blow water out of its blowhole, but it’s even more exciting to observe some of its other behaviors. Southern Right Whales “spy hop”. That is, they put their head all the way out of the water to look around at what’s going on above water. I’ve also seen a whale tail slapping. That’s when it slaps the top of the water with its tail over and over again. Scientists think this is a way of communicating with other whales.

The other day, I saw a whale family together very close to shore. The mother had just given birth that morning. Both parents stayed very close by their baby and took turns lifting it to the surface of the water. One of the local people who lives here told me that a newborn whale doesn’t have enough blubber on it to float to the surface on its own. Since a whale is a mammal (and not a fish), it must breathe air, so it gets help from Mom and Dad until it can do it on its own.

The most exciting thing to see is a whale breach. It lifts the upper part of its huge body clear out of the water, and then “Wham!”. It slaps its back on the surface of the ocean causing a BIG splash! If you’re lucky enough to see it once, keep watching because it will do it three or four times in a row! Learning this, I quickly turned on my camera and captured some video of a whale breaching. Check it out!


So why does a whale breach? Scientists have several theories (educated guesses):

  1. It’s trying to knock the parasites off its back;

  2. A male is showing off for a female whale;

  3. It’s fun and feels good;

  4. It’s a way of communicating with other whales.

Which do YOU think is the best explanation?

Whales come close to shore to give birth in the calm, shallow waters of False Bay.

3 thoughts on “Whales: Largest Mammal on Earth

  1. I have never heard about this whale. I feel bad that people are hunting it for the blubber and other stuff. 😢 🐳

  2. I never heard of a Southern Right Whale. But you learn something new every day! I also never heard of a whale with two blowholes. It looks so cool! I would want to see whales while eating lunch. I learned a lot! 🙂

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